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How to stay motivated when you get no praise

Q: Susie, Stew, 24:

“I feel like nothing I do onboard ever gets noticed. If I work overtime to get a job finished, or put extra effort in, it’s like everyone just takes it for granted, as if they think I love working harder than everyone else! I want to succeed and climb the ladder up to Chief stew as quickly as possible – that’s why I’m working so hard, but I feel like all this extra effort is just being wasted. I’m running out of motivation, and am wondering if I should move onto another boat where I’m more appreciated? I’ve been on this yacht for 8 months, but I don’t know if it’s worth sticking around if they don’t appreciate me.”

A: The Crew Coach:

It sounds like you’re actually on track for burning out if you continue at this rate – and no wonder when you’re waiting for praise that never arrives. That can be very disillusioning, but I’d be a bit wary of moving boats in search of more acknowledgement, because unless you make some changes to your own motivational sources, you are very likely to find this problem everywhere you go. The thing is, when your only source of motivation is external it can be really easy to become demotivated if no appreciation or acknowledgement is coming your way.

External sources of motivation are known as extrinsic motivation, rather than intrinsic motivation, which comes from within. The key difference is that we are in control of our instrinsic sources of motivation, whereas we can’t control the extrinsic ones. That means we need to ensure we have enough intrinsic motivation to balance any shortfall in extrinsic motivation, otherwise we will just run out of steam, as you have already begun to notice!

So, what does extrinsic motivation mean?

We often do something in the hope of recognition or reward, and this is the definition of extrinsic motivation. It comes from outside. It requires other people to recognise, value and reward your contribution. It’s therefore not under our control, and is a bit of a wobbly leg to depend on for holding up your levels of motivation. The minute no-one appreciates your hard work, your motivation to continue putting in the hard yards simply vanishes. You’re far from alone. We all like praise, and that’s fine, but when it’s your primary reason for doing something and you give up if you don’t get it, that’s a sign that you’re too dependent on it.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside us. In order to motivate yourself intrinsically, it helps to write down what it is you actually love about the job. Not external things like money or praise, travel or possibility of quick promotion, but things that you actually like about being a stewardess. The tasks that make you happy; the things you’re good at. The satisfaction of a job well done, and knowing that you made sure the guests had an amazing time. What is so great about doing this job versus being stuck in an office cubicle sat at a computer all day like a lot of other people?

Also, it helps to focus on your ‘Why’. Why do you want to be in the yachting industry? Why do you want to be a Chief stewardess? What will it help you achieve? What is this going to help you do then, and after yachting? Once you establish what your ‘why’ is- what the big thing is you’re working towards, you will find it miles easier to motivate yourself when others don’t notice your achievements, because you are doing these things for yourself, for all the reasons above, not only for praise and recognition.

External acknowledgement is nice, but it’s really just a back-up to our internal sense of pride and meaningful goals. If you’ve got that backwards, then you need to focus more on your own achievements and less on what other people deem worthwhile.

Something else to watch out for with the ‘I’ll do everything even if it kills me’ approach is that people will almost certainly start taking you for granted, or even take advantage of your gut-busting work ethic. They might genuinely ‘think you enjoy working harder than everyone else’, just like you say. Or, they might just think you are so motivated you don’t need any recognition for all that hard work!

On the flip side, the other crew might have identified you as someone craving approval, and that may explain why no-one seems to notice and thank you for all your extra efforts. Something about that just puts people off wanting to give others praise, and you could be doing this completely unconsciously. Even worse, you could be making your Chief Stew feel uncomfortable, or even threatened by your overzealous work ethic, and you certainly can’t expect your chief to be singing your praises if she suspects that you’re after her job. Work hard at supporting the rest of your team and in particular supporting your Chief Stew and you will find you get a lot more support and recognition from them in return.

I’m sure you’re excellent at your job and doing great things, but you need to make sure you’re happy in it too. Don’t be overly driven by the burning need to prove yourself to the world, just get on with enjoying your work and supporting the team around you, and you’ll find the recognition and respect you crave will come naturally.

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